Saturday, 2 August 2008

It Is The Hand Of God In History

It is the Hand of God in History”

We spoke to Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah, the scholar-in-residence at the Chicago-based Nawawi Foundation, about America, Islam, and the future.

What is the single most important challenge facing the American Muslim community?

For me, the most important challenge facing the American Muslim community over the long run is the cultural challenge to create an authentic, indigenous American Muslim culture. I say over the long run because meeting the challenge will take a long time, and I also say over the long run because of the fact that there are immediate developments that might happen, generally speaking, that we hope would not happen, that could make the major challenge something else. But in normative circumstances, the cultural challenge is the great challenge in my mind and also is the unique possibility for the community.

What is the most important response to that challenge, and how do we mobilize our community to respond appropriately?

The appropriate response is to generate a culture, and we should be as creative, as innovative, as ingenious, as original in that as we possibly can be, and still be authentic and genuine as Muslims. We [need to] create a culture that is attractive to us, that affirms our identity as Muslims in this society, but is also recognizable as a valid, attractive way to live. And then of course, also to believe—and I think the issue of belief is probably the most important of all, because in order to believe and to have spiritual development, the soul has to be safe, and the psyche has to be sound. If you don’t have a culture in the place where you live, you don’t live there—you’re an alien. Therefore, not belonging creates for you all kinds of anxieties and feelings of being uprooted and feelings of needing to go home and not even knowing where your home is. That makes it very difficult to be a true believer in the full sense and to be a person who makes spiritual progress. And I think belief and spirituality are our ultimate goals in a society like this, [which is] so economically endowed and [provides] so much political freedom and so much opportunity to do what we want to do, good or bad. Can we actually believe, can we actually support our faith, and can we have a faith which is not simply a way of clinging onto the past or onto the way of others, of our mothers and fathers, but is something that is real for us?

What are your hopes for the future of the Muslim community in the West?

I would note that the West is not any more monolithic than any other part of the world. But the United States’ Muslim community, which is the one that I belong to because I’m an American and I live here, is a really gifted community. And I think it has a dynamic role to play. My hopes are very great hopes. And I hope that I’m not naïve in that, and I hope that I won’t be proven wrong. My hopes are based on what I know about this religion and its incredible potential to transform people. It has the power of the alchemist to turn rocks into gold. It has done that in the past. It has powerful spirituality. It unlocks knowledge and the potential to knowledge. Our community is one of the most educated, one of the most endowed, one of the most prosperous Muslim communities per capita in the world. In the United States, the Muslim community per capita is much more educated in terms of college degrees than mainstream America. We are really a remarkable community, and that is not fortuitous. No doubt it goes back to [President Lyndon B.] Johnson’s immigration policy, but it is the work of God. It is the Hand of God in history, and it is for a reason. And that reason is to establish Islam in this country in a very sophisticated and a very forward looking way that is meaningful for us and for our children and grandchildren so that we can survive in this country and flourish in this country—but which is also meaningful for this country itself.

No comments: